Supreme Court Declines Appeal from Missouri Christian University Over Transgender Housing Policy
The Supreme Court made a significant decision on Tuesday, refusing to hear an appeal from a Missouri Christian university that had filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration over its transgender housing policy.
The College of the Ozarks, which had appealed a lower court’s ruling that found the university lacked standing to challenge the policy, saw its case rejected by the justices. Both the lower court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit had ruled that the school lacked standing because the federal government had not attempted to enforce the mandate against the school.
In early 2021, President Joe Biden signed an executive order instructing federal agencies to interpret sex-discrimination provisions in federal laws. Shortly after, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued a memo (pdf) updating the 1968 Fair Housing Act (FHA), asserting that anti-discrimination laws can protect transgender individuals throughout the federal government.
The College of the Ozarks argued that the federal government’s rulemaking clashed with the school’s ability to assign housing based on biological sex, as its faith teaches. The college assigns dorms, roommates, and intimate spaces according to biological sex and communicates this policy to students.
Lawyers representing the college emphasized the significant implications of the policy, stating in court filings, “If HUD gets away with rewriting the FHA via the Directive, it has no incentive to ever go through the rule-making process. That eliminates judicial review until after an enforcement proceeding is complete and the regulated entity has already been harmed.”
The Justice Department (DOJ) argued that the College of the Ozarks has a religious exemption to such policies, suggesting that the DOJ is unlikely to enforce the FHA rule due to this exemption. The DOJ stated in court papers, “Petitioner has not alleged any past, current, or threatened enforcement of the Memorandum or the FHA against it or any similarly situated college … indeed, as the court of appeals emphasized, HUD has never filed a charge of sex discrimination based on a housing policy against an educational institution where, as here, the Department of Education has recognized that institution’s entitlement to a religious exemption under Title IX.”
In response to the college’s concerns, the Biden administration filed papers with the Supreme Court last month, asserting that the HUD guidance from early 2021 does not require the school or any other housing provider “to do or refrain from doing anything.” The administration added that the college has not alleged any past, current, or threatened enforcement.
When the 8th Circuit Appeals Court ruled on the matter in 2022, it affirmed an earlier district court ruling that found the college lacked standing to establish a case or controversy and dismissed the action for lack of jurisdiction.
Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a nonprofit advocacy group, has been representing the college. They argue that the college might be forced to have women share private spaces with biological men who claim to identify as women, potentially violating the college’s religious beliefs.
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